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UA Little Rock ranked top university for social mobility in Arkansas

Students sit at computers in a campus computer lab, engaged in their work.
Students sit at computers in a campus computer lab, engaged in their work.

U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as the No. 1 university in Arkansas for social mobility.

The ranking measures a university’s success in graduating economically disadvantaged students who are less likely to finish college.

“Facilitating social mobility is a fundamental value at UA Little Rock. It is inherent in our role and scope as a metropolitan university,” said Chancellor Christina Drale. “We also know that helping our students advance means more than providing excellent programs. We must also provide a success infrastructure that will keep them engaged, help them solve problems, and enable them to build relationships with professionals in their field that will assist in their transition to a career path after graduation.”

UA Little Rock alumnae Reteisha Byrd, was able to afford college with the help of Pell grants, scholarships, a graduate assistantship, and student loans. She graduated from UA Little Rock with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2014 and a Master of Public Administration in 2016. An internship at Little Rock Port Authority led to her current job as a research manager for Boyette Strategic Advisors.

“I knew I wanted to attend UA Little Rock upon graduating from high school,” Byrd said. “The university had a great business program and was in the capital city with plenty of job opportunities. The College of Business provided plenty of opportunities for students to network with local businesses. My education at UA Little Rock has allowed me to apply what I learned in the classroom, make connections within the community, and advance in my personal life. I’ve also made lifelong friends who were either classmates or roommates while attending UA Little Rock.”

The social mobility indicator measures how well schools graduated students who received federal Pell Grants. Students receiving these grants typically come from households whose family incomes are less than $50,000 annually, though most Pell Grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000. The social mobility ranking was computed by assessing Pell Grant graduation rates and Pell Grant graduate rate performance.

At UA Little Rock, 47 percent of undergraduate students from the fall 2020 semester are Pell Grant recipients, and 48 percent of undergraduates are first-generation students. UA Little Rock’s student body is the most diverse of any college or university in Arkansas. More than half of UA Little Rock students are over the age of traditional college students, with an overall average age of 27.

Mercades Parker, a single mother who will graduate in May 2021 with a Master of Social Work degree, would not have been able to afford college without taking on substantive loans if she had not been selected for the Chancellor’s Leadership Corps at UA Little Rock and the Academic Challenge Scholarship from the Arkansas Department of Education. Parker said that the advancement of social mobility is shown at UA Little Rock by the way people take care of the students.

“I think UA Little Rock really cares about its students,” Parker said. “From 2013 and on, I always felt like there was someone to help me when I needed help the most. College is challenging and tough. Having those different outlets to go to is what helped me. Having a professor who would go back and look over your work with you is very helpful. They really want you to succeed. I think social mobility is shown in how people care about their students.”

UA Little Rock has proven to be the higher education institution in Arkansas that can transform your life and empower graduates through education. When Dr. Brian Berry came to UA Little Rock as a first-generation college student, he never imagined that he would get his Ph.D. and go one to become UA Little Rock’s vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School.

“I couldn’t even dream of a Ph.D. when I first got here. I was just happy to be going to college,” Berry said. “This place gave me more to dream about. I’ve always been thankful for the opportunities that UA Little Rock has given me. Not only has this institution given me an education, but it’s given me a career.”

Dr. Erin Finzer, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, emphasized the many programs UA Little Rock has available to help underrepresented students as one of the reasons for the university’s high social mobility ranking.

Those programs include the Charles W. Donaldson Scholars Academy, a year-round program open to students in the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) that provides academic support and mentoring for underrepresented students at the university.

Additionally, the Summer Bridge Academy is a three-week residential program that prepares incoming freshmen socially and academically for college-level work and accelerates their progress toward degree completion.

UA Little Rock is also home to the African American Male Initiative, African American Female Initiative, Hispanic Latino Initiative, TRIO Talent Search, and McNair Scholars, which also support underrepresented students towards degree completion and graduate school enrollment.

“Our academic programs, service to students, and commitment to community engagement are determined by our mission to improve students’ lives through engaged teaching and learning,” Finzer said.